About Larry Cox

Larry Cox is the former Executive Director of Amnesty International USA. He spent nine years at AIUSA, from 1976 to 1984, establishing the organization's Program to Abolish the Death Penalty before becoming its first Communications Director and as the first Deputy Executive Director. He then spent five years as Deputy Secretary General at Amnesty International's London headquarters. Throughout his time at Amnesty International he has served as a delegate on several international missions, including missions to Australia, Guinea-Bissau, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, the United Kingdom and Vietnam. In 1990, Larry was named Executive Director of the Rainforest Foundation, an international organization that works with indigenous peoples in the Brazilian Amazon to protect their rights. He spent an extensive amount of time working in Brazil on the issue of demarcation of indigenous territories. He went to work at the Ford Foundation in 1995 where, as part of an effort to strengthen human rights work around the world, Larry traveled to a number of countries, including Indonesia, China, India, Cambodia, Egypt, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, Chile, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. While at the Ford Foundation he co-edited and co-wrote the introduction to the report, Close to Home: Case Studies of Human Rights Work in the US. Close to Home examines the work of U.S. organizations that are using traditional human rights tools-such as fact-finding, litigation, organizing and advocacy-to reduce poverty, promote workers' rights and environmental justice, abolish the death penalty and end discrimination. A familiar public speaker, he often delivers lectures on the history of human rights in the United States, international justice and the formation of the International Criminal Court, and the need for the protection of economic, social and cultural rights both here in the US and worldwide. Larry has a B.A. in History from Mount Union College, has done graduate work at the University of Geneva and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Religion and Human Rights at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
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That Little Matter of Solving World Poverty, Mr. President

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Amid the global economic crisis, who stole the spotlight?  The Big Three car makers?  The bigwigs and their bonuses? The big banks that caused all the trouble? That’s where all of the attention has been focused.  But what about the little guys, people whose individual stories we won’t hear, but who will be living in poverty, due to the global financial crisis. Well, according to the World Bank, there will be 53 million more of them because of the economic collapse.

This kind of massive deprivation for basic needs – not luxuries like the Palm Beach condos lost in the Madoff scandal – cannot and will not go unanswered.

Some of the repercussions are already occurring: growing repression, racism and violence.  The Amnesty International Report 2009: State of the World’s Human Rights, released today, labels these brewing problems the “ticking time bomb” underlying the economic crisis.  In Zimbabwe, hundreds of activists protesting economic decline and social conditions were arrested and detained without charge, with police using excessive force to break up protests. Refugees from Zimbabwe in 2008 faced racism and xenophobia in South Africa that led in one instance to 60 deaths and 600 injuries.

While world leaders are focused on attempts to revive the global economy, they are neglecting deadly conflicts that are spawning massive human rights abuses. Amnesty International’s Secretary General Irene Khan said that, “Ignoring one crisis to focus on another is a recipe for aggravating both. Economic recovery will be neither sustainable nor equitable if governments fail to tackle human rights abuses that drive and deepen poverty, or armed conflicts that generate new violations.”

Good point. When John McCain tried to duck the first presidential debate, wasn’t it Candidate Obama who said, “Presidents are going to have to deal with more than one thing at a time”?

So, President Obama. In addition to running GM, appointing a new Supreme Court justice, winding down two wars, gearing up to advance your domestic agenda and closing Guantanamo legally and fairly (come on, you promised “in concert with our core values” ), can’t you do something to help millions of little guys who need food, water, a roof over their heads and a job?

Yep, the United States is expected to exert leadership on every major world crisis. It’s the responsibility that comes with that label we love: “world’s sole superpower.” And U.S. leadership and respect in the world needs a good makeover. Here’s the perfect opportunity.

President Obama could ensure that the United States plays a leadership role in uniting world leaders to give sufficient attention not just to “trickle down” recovery, but to recovery that helps all people. Recovery that would comprehensively address the problems that lead to and keep people in poverty. That must mean addressing the underlying human rights issues that create and exacerbate human rights violations. His chums in the G20 would be a great place to start.

Come on, Mr. President. Yes You Can!

To read Amnesty International’s new report, please visit thereport.amnesty.org, for facts and figures, images, graphs, audio and video news releases, and regional and country reports.

President Obama Needs to Turn Words Into Action

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Today President Obama said the right words about returning to the rule of law and reclaiming America’s moral authority.  Now he needs to ensure his actions reflect American values and the rule of law.

The president said that the struggle against terrorism is a struggle rooted in values.  In the past eight years, the United States has abandoned deeply held principles and empowered those who seek to harm Americans. The president recognized the perils of sacrificing our values to pragmatism, which is precisely the challenge he faces in closing Guantanamo.

Revising the military commissions is a mistake.  It is a system so broken, so discredited, that it cannot be saved by any amount of administrative or legislative duct tape. Americans have put faith in their federal court systems for more than 200 years. All detainees can be tried in these courts and brought to justice.  The rule of law must be our guide as the nation seeks to close Guantanamo and reclaim its moral authority.

When the United States wanted to understand how something like September 11th was allowed to happen and how to prevent another occurrence, Americans turned to an independent and bipartisan commission. The country faces similar questions today regarding abuses committed in the name of national security. Americans cannot simply turn the page and pretend that these things never happened.  An independent commission must be established to find the answers.

Seven Years Later: Our Power, Our Responsibility

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This week we mark the 7th anniversary of the day the U.S. government first began warehousing “enemy combatants,” terrorism suspects and hapless wrong-place-wrong-time detainees at Guantánamo.  Since then, hundreds of detainees have been locked up and stripped of their legal rights, at least five have died in custody, and scores have attempted suicide (not to mention the more than 500 documented incidents of detainees trying to harm themselves).  The U.S. government’s malfeasance has metastasized all over globe to include torture, kidnapping and extraordinary rendition, as well as the CIA practice of “ghost detentions”—the secret and illegal imprisonment of in overseas prisons.

The past eight years have certainly been one of the darkest periods in our recent history. We’ve seen our own government trample human rights, commit war crimes and author an era of illegal practices reminiscent of some of the most repressive regimes in recent memory (see Gen. Pinochet). For this, as Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights) argues in the current issue of Amnesty International magazine, those responsible should be investigated, and if the evidence warrants it, they should be prosecuted.

Some of us in the human rights community have expressed cautious hope that the inauguration of Barack Obama as our nation’s 44th president will mark the end of this disgraceful era, that it will be the other bookend to January 11, 2002. But for this to become reality, we have to remember that now is not the time to dial down.  We applaud Mr. Obama for pledging to close Guantánamo, an important first step.  But the closure will be meaningful only if it is accompanied by “an unqualified return to America’s established system of justice for detaining and prosecuting suspects,” as Amnesty International, the ACLU, Human Rights First and Human Rights Watch have urged in a joint letter delivered to the presidential transition team last month.  We are categorically opposed to the creation of any other ad-hoc illegal detention system that would allow the executive branch to continue to suspend due process.  Any attempt to find a “third way” would amount to having a Guantánamo within our borders.

Since I became executive director of AIUSA three and a half years ago, I’ve often wondered if the inexorable and secretive nature of the Bush administration’s transgressions somehow robbed ordinary citizens of the belief that we can, as individuals with important common goals, make an impact.  If so, then this is the moment to reclaim our power—and shoulder our responsibility.  There is so much work to be done: holding the outgoing administration accountable for the war crimes it has committed, directing international attention and resources to address bloody conflicts overseas, addressing the continuing crisis of violence against women.  It is also a ripe moment for us to apply the human rights framework to urgent problems we face here at home, such as poverty and migrant detentions.

“Change you can believe in” is a phrase that has been trumpeted ad infinitum. But really, it is up to us. We have to make the change we believe in. And yes, we can.

Voting Rights Equals Human Rights

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Last night’s record voter turnout and victory for Senator Barack Obama are a powerful demonstration to me that the American people are passionate about hope for the future and are willing to work to bring about the change they desire. It was inspiring to witness so many people turn out to exercise one of the most fundamental human rights.

This historic election also reaffirms my belief in the strength and effectiveness of grassroots organizing and the power to build a decentralized movement for change. That is the model on which Amnesty International was founded, and still forms the core of our life-saving human rights work.

Now, as we move forward and begin to work on the challenges ahead, we can do so with fresh affirmation that when committed individuals stand together and work toward a common goal, fundamental change is possible.

As human rights activists, we have new opportunities to press the United States government to abandon existing policies and practices that led to violations of rights at home and abroad, as well as a decline in U.S. reputation.

I encourage President-elect Obama to put human rights at the heart of the new administration, and I encourage all of you to keep fighting for human rights–for everyone, everywhere.

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